One conversation we see a fair bit of online, though maybe not as much as we should, are the "What if..." fighters. Those are the fighters who appear to reach their potential for one reason or another. Those can be things like a top youngster dying at a tragically young age, a fighter falling out of love with the sport, suffering an injury, or a multitude of other things.
Some of the great global examples are Salvador Sanchez, who died tragically young, Muahmmad Ali and his several years of exile and Mike Tyson had Cus D'Amato not passed away when he did. We thought it was worth looking at the great examples from Asian boxing. Some of these are obvious, and potentially fighters who could have changed the sport at the top, whilst others are less well known, and likely wouldn't have had such a big impact globally but made a difference on a lower level
Masao Oba (35-2-1, 16)
It makes sense to start with the obvious one and get it out of the way. Japan's Masao Oba is one of the best fighters the country has ever developed. He was a master boxer who fought 38 times in his career, which lasted a little over 6 years. During his short time in the professional ranks he beat a genuine who's who of who from the Flyweight division in the 1970's. These included Bernabe Villacampo, Berkrerk Chartvanchai, Fritz Chervet, Betulio Gonzalez, Susumu Hanagata and Chartchai Chionoi. He not only beat a number of top fighters from his era but also won the WBA Flyweight title, which he defended 5 times.
Despite having distinguished himself as an exceptional fighter Oba is Japan's most notable "What if..." as he passed away in January 1973, at the age of 23, in an auto mobile accident.
What if he hadn't been involved in his fatal vehicular accident? The reality is that he struggling to make weight and was set to move up to Bantamweight. Given a move up would have seen Oba join a division that had the likes of Arnold Taylor, Romeo Anaya, Rafael Herrera, Venice Bokhorosor, Rodolfo Martinez, Soo Hwan Hong, Alfonso Zamora and Carlos Zarate in it. The potential for great bouts over the year that followed are amazing. For both him, the sport at large and the history of the Bantamweight division it is such a shame that Oba passed away when he did.
Kiyoshi Tanabe (21-0-1, 5)
Another relatively obvious choice here is another Japanese fighter, Kiyoshi Tanabe. The talented Japanese Flyweight had been an Olympic bronze medal winner in 1960, having run up a sensation 115-5 (30) amateur record and then turned pro in 1963. Less than 2 years after his debut he claimed the Japanese Flyweight title, which he defended twice. In early 1967 he battered WBA Flyweight champion Horacio Accavallo in 6 rounds, forcing the referee to stop the bout and save Accavallo.
Sadly Tanabe's win over Accavallo came in a non-title bout, but they had planned a rematch on the back of Tanabe's victory, for the title. That plan got scrapped when Tanabe was forced to retire with a detached retina. Tanabe was 26 when he fought for the final time, he had linked up with the legendary Eddie Townsend, who was changing his style to be more aggressive, and that seemed to be on show against Accavallo, who had never previously been stopped.
What if...Tanabe hadn't suffered a career ending injury just as he seemed on the verge of something big? Would he have beaten Accavallo the second time? Would the Argentinian veteran have adapted to him and got revenge for their first bout? Interestingly had Tanabe won the mooted rematch with Accavallo there's a chance Masao Oba would have faced him at some point around 1970.
Poot Lorlek (8-0, 3)
Whilst the two men we mentioned already had to end their careers due to issues that were totally out of their control that wasn't the case for Thailand's Poot Lorlek, who simply didn't stay in the sport very long. He's widely regarded as one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters in history, had a notable rivalry with Saensak Murangsurin, and transitioned to Western Style boxing for a very short career. It was short but it showed he could have had a real impact.
In just 8 professional bouts Lorlek beat future Commonwealth champion Lawrence Austin and the then OPBF Lightweight champion Young Ho Oh, who later had 2 world title fights.
What if...Poot Lorlek had stuck with Western boxing for a few years longer? How would he have coped with the likes of Wilfred Benitez, Antonio Cervantes and even old Muay Thai rival Saensak Muangsurin? Would he even have made it that far in boxing? He had shown in 8 bouts for us to get very excited, but that was all we got, and we really don't know how he would have coped had he continued in the sport. He's a great "what if..." that not many, other than the hardcore who follow Muay Thai, will know about, but really could have been something special in the sport. Especially given the success Muangsurin had.
Chung Soo Suh (1-0)
From what we understand boxrec have actually got a mistake in their records in regards to Chung Soo Suh, potentially merging two records together by mistake. The reason we say that us numerous Korean sources report that Chung Soo Suh made his debut on December 9th 1988 against Roger Vicera, but boxrec have got that bout added to some other fighter, potentially.
With that said you may wonder why a 1-0 fighter is being mentioned on here, and that's because of what Suh did in the amateurs. He was a stellar amateur in a time where South Korea was developing standout amateurs almost on a conveyor belt of talent. Not only that but he was mixing very competitively with the best of the best, including Sung Kil Moon and Byung Il Jung. In fact he very nearly went to the 1988 Olympics but missed out to Jung, who was famously the protesting Korean boxer who sat in the ring after a loss.
According to Korean sites Suh signed a professional contract in September 1988 with big hopes. His team had promised to secure him a world title fight within 5 bouts and had paid a hefty contract to turn profession. He seemed set for something bit, but only actually fought once, a decision over Filipino Roger Vicera. He then joined the military in 1990 before being discharged and struggling with finances, and then with alcohol.
What if Suh had continued with his career? Would Kim Hyun-chi have managed to secure Suh a world title bout as he had promise? If he had remained an active fighter he'd have been looking at bouts against the likes of Raul Perez, Greg Richardson, Khaokor Galaxy and former amateur rival Sung Kil Moon. It's a real shame we never got to see what Suh could have done.
Marvin Sonsona (21-1-1, 15)
We end this with someone who had the potential to do something massive, and still technically does, but clearly won't. As we write this Marvin Sonsona is only 29, he's a former WBO Super Flyweight champion and one of the most naturally gifted fighters that we've seen. He was blessed with skills that should have lead him to a massive career, multi world championships, lengthy reigns at the top and a career as one of the faces of the lower weights.
Instead of any of that Sonsona's career highlights are a 2 month reign as a world champion, avenging his sole defeat and a 2014 KO of the Year candidate.
So, you may ask, why is Marvin Sonsona a "What if...", he wasn't injured, he didn't die young, and didn't have his career cut short. In fact he had an 11 year professional career and is still young enough to fight on. The "What if..." for Marvin Sonosona, is "What if he actually showed dedication to the sport?" He managed to win a world title at 19 years old, then lost if on the scales. So just for a start, had he been dedicated his reign would have been longer, he wouldn't have moved up 2 weight classes in the 5 months following his title win, and wouldn't have been knocked out by Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.
Whether Sonsona would ever have reached the heady heights predicted for him or not is unclear, but he certainly would have done a lot more with his career.
This past Monday we had the chance to see an excellent All Japanese world title fight, with Kosei Tanaka narrowly defeating Sho Kimura to claim the WBO Flyweight world title. It was the latest in a long line of amazing All Japanese world title fighters dating back over 50 years. Here we take a look at 5 memorable all Japanese world title bouts.
Yoshiaki Numata (33-4, 9) Vs Hiroshi Kobayashi (50-6-2, 7)
December 14th 1967 - Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
The first ever all Japanese world title fight saw Yoshiaki Numata battle against Hiroshi Kobayashi. Coming in the the bout Numata was the WBC and WBA Super Featherweight champion, having taken the titles from the legendary Flash Elorde. When he won the titles he was the 5th ever Japanese world champion. In his first defense Numata faced off with the much more experienced Kobayashi. Kobayashi had made his name on the Japanese domestic scene mainly, where he had been the Featherweight champion, making 7 defenses before moving up in weight to challenge Numata.
The bout was an action packed one and would be award the Japanese fight of the year. Notably both men went on to have success after this bout and when the WBC and WBA titles split there was an 18 months time window when the two men were both world champions. The bout also got 41.9% of the audience tuning in from the Kanto region, one of the highest ever for a boxing contest!
Masao Oba (31-2-1, 13) vs Susumu Hanagata (34-10-8, 4) II
March 4th 1972-Nihon University Auditorium, Tokyo, Japan
Amazingly it would be more than 4 between the first and the second all-Japanese world title fight, though the wait was worth it with WBA Flyweight champion Masao Oba, one of the greatest Japanese fighters of all time, battling against Susumu Hanagata. This was a rematch of a bout the two men had had in 1968, when an 18 year old Oba was beaten by Hanagata, suffering his second career loss. Following their first bout Oba had become one the best fighters in the division, reeling off 15 straight wins and making two world title defenses. Hanagata had gone 10-2 following their first bout, with both losses coming on the road in world title bouts. This was high work rate and very exciting from both men.
Interestingly Oba's bout with Orlando Amores was voted the Japanese fight of the year for 1972 and unfortunately Oba would pass away less than a year after this bout, following a motor vehicle accident. Hanagata would go on to fight for a few more years and would actually score a huge win over Chartchai Chionoi in 1974 to put his name in the history books.
Yasuei Yakushiji (22-2-1, 16) Vs Joichiro Tatsuyoshi (10-1-1, 8)
December 4th 1994-Rainbow Hall, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Almost 30 years after the first ever all Japanese world title fight we had the first “unification” bout between two Japanese fighters as WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji and Interim champion Joichiro Tatsuyoshi faced off at the Rainbow Hall. This bout was massive for Japanese boxing with Tatsuyoshi being the face of boxing in Osaka, due to his charismatic and exciting style. Yakushiji on the other hand was the more technically correct boxer, but was over-looked by some due to the popularity of Tatsuyoshi. That was despite the fact Yakushiji was the “real” champion and was looking to make his third defense.
This bout would achieve an audience number of 39.4% in the Kanto region, another of the highest ever in Japan, and like the Tanaka Vs Kimura bout it would live up to all the expectations with high tempo action, heavy shots landed by both and very little to split the men, both of whom were looking worse for wear at the end of the bout. This would be another winner of the Japanese Fight of the Year award.
Takanori Hatakeyama (23-1-2, 18) vs Hiroyuki Sakamoto (35-4, 25)
October 11th 2000-Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
In 2000 Japanese fight fans had another all-Japanese Fight of the Year as WBA Lightweight champion Takanori Hatakeyama and Hiroyuki Sakamoto beat the ever living snot out of each other in a bloody, violent, thrilling clash. Hatakeyama was the champion going into the bout, he enjoying his second reign as a world champion having previously held the WBA Super Featherweight title, and had won the Lightweight belt in brilliant fashion stopping Gilberto Serrano, with this being his first defense. Sakamnoto had lost two other world title fights, including one to Serrano, but had won the OPBF and Japanese titles. This was mostly an inside war fought between two men who did not want to hear the final bell.
As mentioned this was a Japanese Fight of the Year and seemingly took a lot out of both men. Neither man would go on to score a win of note, and in fact between them the only real good result was a draw in 2001 between Hatakeyama and Rick Yoshimura. This fight essentially ruined both men.
Kazuto Ioka (9-0, 6) Vs Akira Yaegashi (15-2, 8)
June 20th 2012-Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka, Osaka, Japan
Almost 20 years after the brilliant Yakushiji/Tatsuyoshi bout we had the first true unification bout, as WBC Minimumweight champion Kazuto Ioka faced off with WBA champion Akira Yaegashi. The bout was a brilliant contest with a combination of skills and heart, with Yaegashi fighting through badly swollen eyes for much of the fight and managing to drag Ioka into his fight. Ioka always looked like the guy with more rounded skills, and speed, but Yaegashi's heart, determination and sheer will to win made this into a fantastic bout. It managed to give us some of the best rounds of the year and was another of the All-Japanese world title bouts to be awarded the Japanese Fight of the Year.
In the years since this bout both men have moved through the weights, with both claiming world titles at Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and now, remarkably, both are competing at Super Flyweight as they look to become 4-weight champions.
It's worth noting that there has been a lot All Japanese title bouts than we've covered. These range from the controversial, such as Daisuke Naito's bout with Daiki Kameda, to the frankly massive contest between Daisuke Naito and Koki Kameda which got a ridiculous 43.1% audience share. They also include other Japanese fights of the year, such as Takashi Uchiyama's bout with Daiki Kaneko.
Amazingly there has only ever been one all-Japanese world title fight to end in the first round, and that was the second bout between Masamori Tokuyama and Katsushige Kawashima. Interestingly the trilogy between Tokuyama and Kawashima saw Tokuyama win 2-1 taking decisions in both of his wins. Amazingly there has only ever been 1 draw in an all Japanese world title fight, that came in 2001, in the aforementioned bout between Takenori Hatakeyama and Rick Yoshimura.
For those who care about TV numbers all 3 of the high rating bouts were screened on TBS.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).